Another varied week of variety at South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, Yeovil.
One of the questions we are often asked is: “How much space do you have at the Centre?”
We answer in two ways: Firstly, we manage what we collect and secondly, we consider what we have in the existing collection.
This question was brought into clear focus this week, as staff made a presentation on “Rationalisation and Disposal in a Museum Context” at the Dorset History Centre in Dorchester.
The first point is often simpler to address. Our bench mark and guiding principle is our Collecting Policy of “Yeovil and South Somerset.” Therefore, if an object is offered, which is not from “Yeovil or South Somerset” we can suggest the donor can send the object or photograph to a more relevant museum (or we can arrange this for them). One recent example was a jigsaw puzzle of a Dorchester town crier, which we deposited with Dorset County Museum at Dorchester. However, there are difficulties and ‘shades of grey.’ For example, we recently received a large quantity of embroidery, fabric and costume. Significantly, only two or three items (out of 50!) had a direct provenance to the donor – as they actually made them or are notable examples of fashion from the 1920s. The other items were given to the donor and therefore the connection (in terms of our collecting policy) to Yeovil and South Somerset lies with the status of the donor as a collector and authority on costume design within the local area. The decision needs to be made, therefore, to either accession all the items in to the collection and therefore look after them for future generations to see and enjoy or alternatively, keep those with a direct provenance or notable design and ‘ethically dispose’ of the others, perhaps into our handling collection or even other museums with costume collections or local embroidery or theatre groups.
The second question, can be more difficult to address, especially as sometimes a significant amount of time has elapsed since the object was originally donated and the objects were donated by the public with the intention of public enjoyment or education and ‘form part of the collection.’ However, Museums are now becoming significantly strict with the items and photographs they collect; often simply because budgets are slimmer and therefore management have to consider funds available to conserve objects – and what is conserved.
Simply put, the course at Dorchester outlined a points system for objects – the higher the score, the less relevant an object to the Museum’s Collecting Policy. This may seem harsh, but does a blue plastic Batman with a bad knee really reflect Yeovil’s history. That is not to say, “ethical disposal” means simply ‘dispose or discard’ selected ‘non collecting policy’ items, but rather ‘transfer’ to other, more relevant collections; where they can often be better looked after, as they are alongside similar objects and because of this, enjoyed to a greater extent, as they are in a similar context.
One interesting example was while leading a guided tour of the Centre, a lady noticed our bound volumes of the local Western Gazette Newspaper – Jan-Jun 1969 and exclaimed: “My Wedding was in May 1969!” Checking inside, indeed there was a report and photograph of their ‘special day’ – but is this sufficient reason to keep the said item?
To answer the question, “How much space do you have at the Centre?”
After some interesting, perhaps difficult, ethical decisions – perhaps a little more than before!
Does a blue plastic Batman with a bad knee (on a blue shelf!) really reflect Yeovil’s history?
The venerable bead – what to keep and what to ‘dispose of ethically’ particularly with a ‘slim’ provenance?